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21 Aug 2019

UCI survey shows road cycling in digital race with desire for more data

By Simon Ward 

Road cycling still has a way to go in engaging with fans away from linear television, and, while the sport is regarded positively, there is demand for new content and data to enhance the viewing experience, according to the results of a survey conducted by the UCI, the sport’s international governing body.

The recent online questionnaire, for which there were more than 22,300 responses from members of the public in 134 countries, found that a vast majority were “very interested in road races,” with 84 per cent saying they were “exciting to follow.”

Fans appear happy with the TV coverage of events, with 77 per cent describing the quality of commentaries as good and 75 per cent feeling the same way about the broadcasts.

Some 40 per cent appreciate that the races are shown live and in full although 26 per cent prefer broadcasts of the final few hours of events preceded by a round-up of the start, and 21 per cent favour the final few hours without any round-up.

However, the UCI noted that respondents highlighted, particularly outside Europe, “the difficulty of finding a media outlet offering coverage of their favourite races,” demonstrating that there is still limited content on digital platforms.

A large majority of viewers watch races on TV (68 per cent), generally on free-to-air channels, with PCs (21 per cent), mobiles (6 per cent ) and tablets (4 per cent) lagging far behind. However, 65 per cent of fans use social media to share and follow cycling-related content.

The results of the survey, which have been released ahead of next month’s UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire in the UK, show that content fans would appreciate includes more extensive information on riders (67 per cent), sequences shot in team cars (63 per cent) and reports on pre-race preparations (60 per cent).

Significantly, 75 per cent claim they would enjoy the racing more if there was more data such as road gradient, instantaneous speed and energy output.

Road cycling appears to be an accessible sport, with 70 per cent of fans believing it is "easy to understand," and two-thirds saying the rules are "not too complicated." 

Concerns raised included the dominance of certain teams, possibly exemplified by riders from Team Sky, now Team Ineos, the well-resourced British outfit, having won seven of the last eight editions of the Tour de France.

Some 50 per cent of respondents regret such predictability and aspects of the sport seen to some extent as negative include the use of earpieces by teams and their riders (48 per cent), the use of power meters to measure the output of riders (40 per cent) and the variations in budgets between teams (39 per cent).

Reflecting on the survey, UCI president David Lappartient said: “The consultation shows us that road cycling enjoys a positive image with the fans, regardless of which continent they are from, and that, generally speaking, they are satisfied with the sport and the coverage on offer.

“They also told us, however, that there is room for improvement, such as making more information and data available during broadcasts and that serious thought should be given to aspects seen as potentially damaging to the appeal of road cycling (domination by a small number of teams or the use of radio communications for instance)."

The survey forms part of a wide consultation involving stakeholders across cycling, and including interviews with leading figures and contributions from a working group comprising representatives of teams, riders and organisers, plus the media and broadcasters, as part of the UCI’s Agenda 2022 reform programme.

Lappartient said: “We are continuing with our consultation work and process of reflection with a view to making road cycling even more attractive: the working group looking into this has already met once, and its members will meet again in the near future; in parallel, interviews with different stakeholders continue.”

Following the consultation, a series of propositions will be drawn up with a view to their approval by the Professional Cycling Council and the UCI management committee in 2020.

In June, the UCI announced changes to the track cycling calendar which will entail revamping, rescheduling and shortening the Track Cycling World Cup Series, moving the Track Cycling World Championships from March to October and launching a new Track Cycling Nations' Cup as part of efforts to revitalise the indoor discipline under the Agenda 2022 plans.